[The Film Issue]

Local filmmaker Neil Breen’s unique (and terrible) movies earned him a cult following

Neil Breen, the Ed Wood of Las Vegas.
Illustration: Danny Hellman

This movie was so terrible I am considering destroying it and reporting it lost to save the next person the aggravation of even loading it in their player. –Netflix user review of Double Down

Neil Breen should not be allowed anywhere near a video camera. He may have the best of intentions and he may be convinced he is creating a work of great art, but he has absolutely no idea how to make a movie. – on I Am Here....Now

The scenes have very little to do with the plot, the actors’ lines have very little to do with the scenes and every moment is an opportunity to catalog every choice that was made wrong about every aspect of the film. – on Fateful Findings

A scene from Neil Breen's Fateful Findings.

Search online for Neil Breen and you’ll find plenty of commentary like this. The Vegas-based architect and/or real estate agent (he prefers to be vague about his personal background) has been self-financing his own feature films since 2005, when he wrote, directed, produced and starred in Double Down, a thriller about a genius hacker/terrorist. Double Down somehow made its way to Netflix’s DVD library, which seems to be where Breen’s notoriety began.

One of Breen’s first major proponents in the film world was Hadrian Belove, head programmer for LA arthouse theater Cinefamily. Belove curates a series known as HFS (which stands for “holy f*cking sh*t”), and prides himself on discovering unique cult movies. He programmed Double Down as a free, secret screening for HFS in 2010, and in 2011 he brought Breen himself to LA for an HFS screening of his second film, I Am Here....Now, which stars Breen as an otherworldly being who comes to Earth to judge humanity.

“A lot of people discover Neil Breen because you know someone else who’s into these kind of unique films,” Belove said at the time. “The funny thing is, you can’t really describe a Neil Breen film. They’re kind of indescribable.”

Belove succeeded in passing along his affection, though, not only to the Cinefamily audience but also to other film-industry tastemakers.

“He’s the man that turned me on to Neil Breen back with his first movie, Double Down,” says Evan Husney, creative director for Drafthouse Films. “It was sort of this thing that was being passed around, and I got a copy.”

By the time Breen had made his third and most recent film, Fateful Findings (pictured), there was an entire community of fans eagerly awaiting what he would do next.

Husney shared his Breen fandom with his boss, Tim League, and League in turn shared Breen’s work with Harry Knowles, founder of influential film-industry website Ain’t It Cool News. By the time Breen had made his third and most recent film, Fateful Findings (which combines the hacker/thriller elements of Double Down with the supernatural musings of I Am Here….Now), there was an entire community of fans eagerly awaiting what he would do next. League helped get Fateful Findings a spot in the 2012 Butt-Numb-a-Thon, Knowles’ annual 24-hour, invite-only film marathon, known for premiering highly anticipated genre films.

“It was literally the film of the whole event,” says Husney of Fateful Findings’ BNAT premiere, and he and League started talks with Breen about giving the movie national distribution. “There’s obviously challenges in releasing those types of films, not just physically but also financially,” says Husney, who was involved in the distribution of cult horror movie Birdemic when he worked at Severin Films. “It’s always a risk, because you never know if other people are going to catch on and like it just as much.”

Ultimately, Breen and Drafthouse couldn’t work out a deal, but the movie will be getting a nationwide release thanks to Panorama Entertainment. “I thought that it was so different than anything else we’ve seen recently, that it was something we had to have,” says Panorama President Stuart Strutin. “We very rarely pick up movies that come in unsolicited. But this was something that we really pursued.”

Panorama is rolling out the movie slowly, starting with its official theatrical premiere January 18 in Cleveland. “The release strategy is to open it as a midnight show, and hopefully it will play on a recurring basis, much like Rocky Horror,” Strutin says. Upcoming bookings include Chicago, LA, New York City, Phoenix and Seattle, among other places, although not Las Vegas.

What draws all these people to Breen’s work, despite its undeniable badness? “When you watch a film like Fateful Findings alone, in the dark, it feels like a movie constructed by someone who has never seen a film or a stage play or even basic television,” Knowles says.

Breen's Fateful Findings (pictured) played at the Seattle International Film Festival.

For Clinton McClung, a programmer for the Seattle International Film Festival, which played Fateful Findings in May 2013, it’s about the filmmaker’s unorthodox approach.

“I am a huge fan of original voices and sincerity, and can overlook technical problems with a film if those other two elements are strong,” McClung says. “I can honestly say that I have yet to see another filmmaker with the style and passion of Neil Breen.”

“Neil Breen did something very, very unique, and there is an artistic vision there,” Belove said of I Am Here....Now. “In some ways I guess it compares to outsider art.”

Although Breen has built a cult following among cinephiles around the world, his profile in Las Vegas is much lower. The local PollyGrind festival of underground and experimental films has turned down Breen’s work more than once. “I think what’s most upsetting to me as a fan of movies is Neil is a serious filmmaker not in on the joke of how bad his films are,” says PollyGrind director Chad Clinton Freeman.

As for the local talent involved in helping Breen realize his vision, the reaction ranges from bemusement to indifference. “I wasn’t too impressed with the work that was done and the way things were done, so I kind of just left it at that,” says actress Tommie Vegas, who played a supporting role in I Am Here....Now.

Breen himself declined to be interviewed for this story, citing his distribution deal (“So I really don’t need to do the interview”). For the growing legion of fans hoping to understand his creative vision (or just get an explanation for why they wasted 90 minutes of their lives), he’ll remain a mystery.

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